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Karlsson also notes that, despite catching Cici’s case early, the PetDx test misses most smaller and localized cancers. In the study, it detected only 51 percent of local lesions bigger than 2 inches—and 20 percent of smaller ones.
The prospect of a blood-based cancer screen for dogs elicits both excitement and caution from veterinary experts and ethicists. “It might really help a lot of patients and could be really exciting,” says Lisa Moses, a veterinarian who specialized in palliative care for 30 years and is currently a bioethicist at Harvard Medical School. “But it really has to be carefully used.”
False positives appeared in up to 1.5 percent of the 519 cancer-free dogs. That’s a small number—but not none. And it’s why Moses, the Harvard bioethicist, worries about using a blood test as a routine checkup tool. False positives can push owners and vets to order follow-up exams “on a patient that doesnt need them,” Moses says. “Worst, worst, worst-case scenario is somebody misinterpreting how the test works and using it as a basis for deciding on euthanasia.”
Because blood screens are noninvasive, they are safer and less expensive than surgery to confirm that a pet has cancer, especially for hard-to-reach tumors in the spleen or liver. But in cases where an early diagnosis still doesn’t offer much hope for treatment, is knowing sooner worth the stress?
“Petco was not involved in preparing or reviewing the scientific results or write-up, but we continue to track the progress PetDx is making with their groundbreaking research,” Whitney Miller, Petco’s chief veterinarian, wrote in an email to WIRED.
A New Blood Test for Cancer in Pets?
In the United States, there’s now a blood test that looks at markers released in the bloodstream when cells multiply too quickly, as with cancer. Ask your vet about it.
Unfortunately, even this test isn’t perfect, because slow-growing cancers can be missed, and the test gives a “yes-no-maybe” answer rather than pinning down the type and location.
So X-rays or an ultrasound scan will still be necessary if the result is positive.
And finally, cancer caught early is often treatable. If you’re concerned about your pet, then have your vet check them over sooner rather than later.
Detecting cancer in your pet with a blood test
When our pets are sick, our mind often trips into worst-case-scenario mode: Does my dog have cancer?
Despite all my training as a veterinarian, I did this, too, when one of my own cats went lame.
My mind immediately screamed, “He might have bone cancer!” rather than the more likely alternative that my cat was in a fight (which was the case).